Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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Divisional New Orleans at Seattle 4:35 PM San Francisco at Carolina 1:05 PM
*UPDATED  Indianapolis at New England 8:10 PM San Diego at Denver 4:40 PM

Prediction: SD 20, DEN 31 (Line: DEN by 10)

Update: Ryan Mathews did not practice this week after aggravating his ankle injury in the wildcard win over Cincinnati. Officially Mathews is listed as questionable, but expect Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead to take a significant chunk of the carries. San Diego's running game could also be dinged by the possible absence of guard Jeromey Clary, who injured his shoulder Wednesday and did not practice the rest of the week; center Nick Hardwick, who has returned to practice after suffering a concussion last week but still needs final clearance to play; and tackle D.J. Fluker, who is a game-time decision due to an ankle injury.

This is a replay of weeks 10 and 15. The Broncos won 28-20 in San Diego but then the Chargers won 27-20 in Denver. This is a game where the Broncos are going to look far better on paper as they did in week 10 when they won in Denver. The Broncos were ten point favorites over the Ravens in the Divisional Round last year and that did not end up so well. What makes this game interesting is the Broncos occasional penchant for playing flat and letting a worse team win. And the Chargers have never been anything that special but on any given Sunday, they might beat anyone. This game is less likely to follow the dots than it would seem.

1 HOU 28-31 10 DEN 20-28
2 @PHI 33-30 11 @MIA 16-20
3 @TEN 17-20 12 @KC 41-38
4 DAL 30-21 13 CIN 10-17
5 @OAK 17-27 14 NYG 37-14
6 IND 19-9 15 @DEN 27-20
7 @JAC 24-6 16 OAK 26-13
8 BYE WEEK 17 KC 27-24
9 @WAS 24-30 18 @CIN 27-10
News | Statistics | Roster
Rush Catch Pass
QB Philip Rivers - - 240,2
RB Danny Woodhead 30 2-20,1 -
RB Ryan Mathews 40 - -
RB Ronnie Brown 30 2-10 -
TE Antonio Gates - 4-55 -
TE Ladarius Green - 3-40  
WR Keenan Allen   5-60  
WR Vincent Brown - 2-30 -
WR Eddie Royal - 3-40,1 -
PK Nick Novak 3 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Bengals were undefeated at home this season until the Chargers showed up last Sunday and took the game in a surprisingly dominant fashion. That was less because of any offensive explosion but mostly because Andy Dalton became a turn-over machine with two interceptions and one lost fumble plus Giovani Bernard opting to also cough it up instead of scoring a touchdown.

Rivers only threw 12 of 16 for 128 yards and one score to Ladarius Green (3-34). The Chargers just stood back and let the Bengals kill themselves. When Ronnie Brown runs for a 58-yard touchdown, the game is going really, really well. This was the best effort by the Chargers in the last ten games and arguably in any game. Giving eight carries to Ronnie Brown is sort of just rubbing it in though Ryan Matthews sat out most of the second half because of the ankle sprain that has dogged him the last few weeks. He wore a boot after the game but early week claimed he was still in the "mind set" that he would play this week. That typically means "denial" but he may be active depending on the week.

Matthews status carries importance. He scored in both meetings with the Broncos and during the win in Denver gained 127 yards on 29 carries. He was limited to 59 yards on 14 runs in the first meeting. He's been the only truly effective player against the Broncos so far.

Philip Rivers passed for 218 yards and one score in the first meeting that ended up with Danny Woodhead. In the win, he threw for just 166 yards but recorded two scores in his only two completions to Keenan Allen that game.

Allen only gained 29 yards that week and was limited to 41 yards on four catches in the first meeting. No other receiver scored or even gained more than 62 yards. The Broncos have been successful in taking away the wide receivers and tight ends so far and the Chargers have just either rushed or thrown to their running backs. Obviously if the Broncos get a big lead the Chargers will throw more and if Matthews is ineffective or absent, the Chargers cannot play dink and dunk.

Have to expect more passing from Rivers since the Broncos are unlikely to have the same problems here that they had in week 15. Especially with Matthews having ankle issues. The forecast is for clear and even warmer conditions so this is not going to be any run vs. run game. Rivers, Allen and either Gates or Green have to show up big for the Chargers to have a chance here.

Gaining Fantasy Points SD 8 5 20 4 3 31
Preventing Fantasy Points DEN 24 19 19 27 12 9


1 BAL 49-27 10 @SD 28-20
2 @NYG 41-23 11 KC 27-17
3 OAK 37-21 12 @NE 31-34
4 PHI 52-20 13 @KC 35-28
5 @DAL 51-48 14 TEN 51-28
6 JAC 35-19 15 SD 20-27
7 @IND 33-39 16 @HOU 37-13
8 WAS 45-21 17 @OAK 34-14
9 BYE WEEK ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
Rush Catch Pass
QB Peyton Manning - - 310,3
RB Knowshon Moreno 70,1 4-35 -
RB Monte Ball 30 3-20 -
TE Julius Thomas - 4-45,1 -
WR Eric Decker - 3-40 -
WR Demaryius Thomas - 5-95,1 -
WR Wes Welker - 5-60,1 -
PK Matt Prater 3 FG 1 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Broncos come off their first round bye on a five game streak of 31+ point games that was interrupted only by these Charger who held them to a season low 20 points. In fact of the three times all year that the Broncos failed to score at least 30 points, two of them were because of the Chargers and the oddly effective matchup for them.

That strange effect the Chargers have on the Broncos didn't happen last year when they were swept in games where Denver scored 30+ points both times. A loss here would be a disaster after last year's shock when the Ravens took them down in the first round.

The only real difference between the two meetings with the Chargers was the absence of Wes Welker who was concussed the previous week. He's already been cleared to play in this game after recuperating for the last month. And Andre Caldwell who replaced Welker ended up with two touchdowns on his six catches for 59 yards in that game.

After turning in 330 yards and four scores in San Diego, Manning was limited to only 289 yards and two touchdowns in the week 15 loss. That was the worse yardage for Manning all year and a rare time he scored fewer than three times in a home game. The Chargers rarely allow more than 300 pass yards though even in road games.

The strangest part of the matchup is that the Chargers are nothing special against the run unless they are facing the Broncos. Over the last four road games, they gave up seven rushing touchdowns and yet none in Denver as their final away venue. It was a throw away game for the Broncos apparently since even in San Diego, Moreno ran for 65 yards on 15 carries. He did end up with a season high eight passes for 49 yards in Denver. There they limited him to only 19 runs on eight carries and Montel Ball lost one net yard on his three runs in that game. But Ball added five catches for 49 yards.

The Chargers can surprise and they especially enjoy getting ready to play the Broncos. But at home in a one-and-done game, it would be catastrophic for Manning and company to have any struggles here, especially after last season's shocking loss. Manning wins here and proceeds to the Super Bowl just continues to shine his legend. If the Broncos lose, Manning's going to battle being known for choking when it counts most even if that assessment is wildly unfair and inaccurate.

Mathews being banged up really tilts the game more. Good weather makes this one even more likely to end up well for the Broncos. That first meeting saw Julius Thomas (3-96) score once and Demaryius Thomas (7-108) end with three touchdowns. Eric Decker never scored on them and remained around 50 yards in both games while Wes Welker was held to just 21 yards on three catches when he played in San Diego.

Gaining Fantasy Points DEN 1 6 1 2 2 14
Preventing Fantasy Points SD 23 14 27 8 8 8

Divisional New Orleans at Seattle 4:35 PM San Francisco at Carolina 1:05 PM
*UPDATED  Indianapolis at New England 8:10 PM San Diego at Denver 4:40 PM

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